Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The purpose of this study is to make some distinotions between medieval and modern attitudes and assumptions concerning the individual and his relationship to society, in order to discern Chaucer's metbods and purposes in the characterisation found in some of The Canterbury Tales. Critical dispute which I will summarise in Chapter One, suggests that the assumptions and preconoeptions related to our own idea of "personality" are inappropriate to and misleading in an evaluation of Chaucer's characters.
Tbe fourteenth-century idea of tbe self and of man's relation to society, ultimately to creation, and God, is contrasted with some aspects of our own "self-picture", the implications of our possession of "personality" in Chapter two. I will look briefly at the beliefs to be inferred from the theological doctrine of personalities, and outline some medieval conceptions of the Inner Man, and of his objectives and his inadequacies.
My remaining three cbapters will comprise a detailed study of the characters found in The General Prologue, and The Wife of Bath's Tale. In Chapter Three we shall see how the external details of the portraits implicitly lead to moral assessment, to a knowledge of spiritual condition which reacbes its culminating statement in The Parson's Tale. This chapter applies the findings of the first and second parts of Chapter Two. Chapter Four pursues the ideas of the third section of Chapter Two, medieval ideals and virtues. Constance embodies some of these ideals and qualities; the Man of Law is an elaborate foil for such characteristics. My final chapter explores the characterisation of the Wife of Bath as the presentation of contrasting qualities and attitudes, a conviction and constancy in sinning and falling. In endowing medieval man and medieval characters with "personality" we are presupposing in the man a moral autonomy and a manner of introspection he is unlikely to have expressed, and in literary characters, a verisimilitude, external or "psychological" calculated to elicit the sympathetic identification of the reader. My contention is that Chaucer's characters are highly artificial, that they comprise elements of iconograpby, exemplary materials, theological, literary and contemporary allusion, calculated to arouse a rational response, and ultimately, an ethical judgment.
Wood, Caroline Elizabeth, "The Historical Idea of Character and The Canterbury Tales" (1971). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 4908.
McMaster University Library